PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM INDUSTRY LEADERS

We hosted a Photography Portfolio Masterclass at the incredible Spring Studios to give talented emerging Photographers the chance to have their work reviewed by some of the UK’s most prominent Picture Editors and Photographic Agents.

Whilst we had them in the room, we thought we would ask a few questions on how to get ahead in the hugely competitive Photography industry…

Q.1 : WHAT ARE YOUR TOP PORTFOLIO TIPS?


SHOWCASE YOUR WORK THROUGH DIFFERENT PLATFORMS

In a digital age, it is important to remember that there are many other ways to showcase your work than through the standard printed portfolio and the more widespread your work is, the more likely Creative Directors are going to find (and possibly hire) you.

Robin Derrick (Executive CD, Spring Studios) told us, “I think a traditional portfolio is a rather out-dated way to present work […] I’ve normally discovered a photographer online.”

David Birkitt (Owner & Managing Director, DMB Represents) supported this by telling us to “consider that everything’s a portfolio these days. Anything you’re putting work out on, any platform you’re using – printed, social, online – they’re all different platforms, they’re all different portfolios and they all do different things in different ways for different reasons.”

In short, get your work out on as many platforms as you can and curate each as carefully as you curate your physical portfolio.

HAVE YOUR OWN STYLE

There will obviously be photographers or magazines that you look up to and admire and it’s hard not to be influenced by them or feel that you have to create the same kind of work in order to get the job. But one of the key points our Masterclass Mentors all agreed on was to have your own sense of style and identity.

Nicola Kavanagh (Editor in Chief, Glass Magazine) strongly advocated this – “I think having your own visual identity is the strongest thing that you can have as a photographer.”

David Birkitt also advised to make sure that your portfolio is “an extension of you and it feels comfortable and it forms a part of you, your being and your character.”

SHOW PERSONAL WORK

The Masterclass Mentors all agreed that a portfolio “is not just about commercial work or editorial, it’s about projects that you’ve done off your own back that show how passionate you are about taking pictures.” (Holly Hay, Photographic Editor, AnOther Magazine & Another Man)

Matt Davey (Co-Founder & Director, Probation London) advises to “never underestimate the value of your personal work […] that’s the stuff that people remember, they want to see what a photographer’s heart and soul is, not just what they’ve been paid to create.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!

PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD

Start your portfolio really strong and prioritise certain images to go near the front.

Jamie Klinger (Publishing Manager, Shortlist/Stylist Magazine) explains why… “If the first 6 shots you see are landscape but they want to be a portrait photographer, you’re never going to think about them for portraits because it’s going to be at the end of their book.”

Lauren Ford (Photo Editor & Producer, Dazed) reinforced this point by reminding photographers “to make sure that you’re opening your book with something really strong and something that shows who you are and what your point of view is as a photographer.”

TELL A STORY. STIMULATE A CONVERSATION

Holly Hay advised that “there should be a reason for every single image in your portfolio, there should be a story behind every image. There should be a reason for it being there and a reason why you love it and a reason why you want to tell people about it.”

Matt Davey also emphasized this point “construct your portfolio in a way that stimulates conversation. Be able to talk about your work and present it confidently when you’re having a face-to-face meeting, it’s not just about the flow of the images it’s about how you present it.”

So, if you make sure your best work is at the front, your portfolio flows well and stimulates conversation, then you’re off to a cracking start.

EDIT, EDIT, EDIT!

This follows on nicely to our next point – be selective. Don’t add 20 different photos from the same shoot to your portfolio when you could have only added two. Whoever is looking through your portfolio is either going to get bored or think that is the only thing you can do.

Steve Peck (Picture Editor, WIRED Magazine) indicated the main thing he looks for is, “a lot of variation in someone’s book. If you are a portrait photographer that’s fine, but I don’t want to see the same head and shoulders crop 15 times, I know you can do that after I’ve seen two – so that’s great, move on, show me something else.”

As Nicola Kavanagh points out, “your portfolio is your most valuable tool in an interview, so make sure you present that as best you can, edit harshly […] make sure it’s really succinct.”

So, make sure you keep things short and sweet and ensure there’s a reason or a story behind every image.

GET A SECOND OPINION!

You’ve taken amazing shots, edited and arranged your portfolio with a fine tooth comb… What else should you do before showing it to a potential client?
Jamie Klinger suggested “to have someone else edit your portfolio. You are too close to your work and you don’t know what your best shots are.”

This point was reinforced by Nicola Kavanagh who told us to “make sure your portfolio is the best it can be: get it up to scratch, try and get feedback from people from agencies before you present to clients or magazines,”

What we’re basically saying is a second (professional) opinion never hurt, and if anyone who knows what they’re talking about is offering to help – take it.

Q.2 : WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A PHOTOGRAPHER?


ORIGINALITY

As mentioned in the portfolio tips, photography industry leaders are primarily on the hunt for originality and a unique perspective because, “in the end if you’re presenting a book that looks like someone else, you better be a cheaper version of them, because there’s no reason to hire you just to be a copycat” (Robin Derrick).
Matt Davey told us that he looks for “ originality – an ability to express ideas in their work and create something other than just a pretty picture.”

‘CAN-DO’ ATTITUDE

Never underestimate the importance of having an upbeat and ‘go-getting’ character. If someone thinks you’re going to respond to a difficult brief with enthusiasm, they’re more likely going to want to work with you.

Dalia Nassimi (Deputy Picture Editor, WIRED) told us “If they have that easy going, very can-do personality and are up for a bit of an adventure you get real magic.”
Similarly, the main thing Jamie Klinger looks for in a photographer is “someone that will do anything and that are part of my team on the day. These are the people who I wanna work with again and again and I wanna have a drink with, and who I’ll hire a million times over."

BE PERSONABLE

You’re going to have to work with lots of people throughout a shoot and if you’re unpleasant to be around, chances are noone is going to want to work with you again. “You need to be personable, you need to get on with people, you need to be able to chat and work around an idea.” (Steve Peck).

It may not seem that important, but as Nicola Kavanagh points out, if it’s a toss up between two photographers, “and they both have a really strong portfolio, I’m gonna go with the one that’s easier to get along with, because everyone likes a nice, easy life!”

So it seems that being nice really can help you finish first, hurrah!

Q.3: WHAT ARE YOUR TOP INTERVIEW TIPS?


RESEARCH
It may seem obvious to some, but our industry leaders’ main interview tip was to make sure you do your research.

Jamie Klinger made it very clear that “if you walk in and you don’t know what my job is, you don’t know where I’ve worked before, you haven’t seen any of the shoots I’ve produced before – you’re not gonna have an ‘in’ with me, you’re not gonna be showing me your professionalism.”

David Birkitt also noted that you should “have a really good reason as to why you’re coming to see me, be aware of what I do. Be aware of something you can add to what I’ve got, not replicate what I’ve got. Have a goal, have a reason for why you want to come, and have at least one thing that you wanna learn.”

Our golden rule for interviews: Do your homework!

HAVE A POINT OF VIEW

Robin Derrick illuminates why perfectly – “when people ask me how to become a fashion photographer – which is mostly what I commission. What they should remember is the word ‘Fashion’ is as big as the word ‘Photographer’ in that phrase, and it’s very important for a fashion photographer to have a point of view on fashion […] most people can take a picture; I think really learning about fashion and having a point of view on that is normally what improves the work.”

Holly Hay reinforced this notion, stating that she also looks for “someone who has something to say, someone who has an opinion on the world and on fashion and on style.”

MAKE SURE YOUR STYLE FITS

If your work is more ‘classic’ than ‘edgy’ then there’s no point in applying for a job at places such as Dazed or Vice as that’s not the kind of work they’re looking for, it’s “a waste of time for everybody, a waste of time for the photographer and for ourselves” (Dalia Nassimi).

Your time is precious; make sure you’re not wasting it!

BE PASSIONATE

Jamie Klinger needs to see passion from a photographer in an interview – “it’s not an easy job, we’re not in this because we want to work 9-5, we’re in this because we want more. So you have to show me that you want to give more and you want to collaborate more.”

Dalia Nassimi points out that, “in magazines – you’re not in it for money you’re in it for the experience, for the exposure. You’re going to get access to a really interesting person or access to a really interesting company. That’s what we’re giving you – go run with it, because in ad world you don’t get that.”

So, in your interview, be passionate about the project and let them know how much you want the opportunity to work with them.

BE ON TIME

Again it may seem obvious, but punctuality is crucial in an interview. It’s the very first impression you give to the interviewer and you don’t want it to be a bad one, as Jamie Klinger stresses, “if I think you’re late for an interview you’re gonna be late for my shoot and I just don’t deal with lateness […] I’ve never hired anyone that was late for an interview.”

And Finally…

BE PERSISTENT
After so many emails sent with no response, it can feel like you may never get your big break.

But Holly Hay’s advice for breaking into the industry is to “have persistence – don’t feel like you’re chasing people. Everyone is so busy they won’t feel hounded […] it’s all about timing – hitting someone’s inbox at the right time. So persistence and be brave, and stay true to why you originally started taking pictures.”

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Poppy Jamieson

  • Head of PR & Communications
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Poppy Jamieson
Head of PR & Communications